(AP) – On Thursday, an American judge in Texas blocked President Joe Biden’s plan to provide millions of borrowers with up to $ 20,000 per person in the form of federal student loan waiver – a program that was already on hold because a federal appeals court in St. Louis considers a separate lawsuit by six states to challenge him.
District Court Judge Mark Pittman, appointed by former Fort Worth President Donald Trump, said the program usurped Congress’ right to legislate.
“In this country we are not ruled by an almighty manager with a pen and a telephone. Instead, we are governed by the Constitution, which provides for three distinct and independent branches of government, ”wrote Pittman.
He added: “The Tribunal is not blind to the current political division in our country. But it is fundamental to the survival of our Republic to maintain the separation of powers in line with our Constitution. ”
The debt relief plan would write off $ 10,000 of student loan debt to people earning less than $ 125,000 or households with incomes below $ 250,000. Pell Grant recipients, who typically have greater financial needs, would receive an additional $ 10,000 of debt relief.
The cancellation applies to federal student loans used to attend the undergraduate and graduate schools, along with Parent Plus loans.
The US Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals suspended the forgiveness plan on October 21, while it considered efforts by the states of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, and South Carolina to block the program.
While the stay temporarily prevented the administration from actually settling the debt, the White House encouraged borrowers to continue seeking relief, arguing that the court ruling had not prevented applications from being filed or processed.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration disagreed with Thursday’s ruling and the Justice Department appealed. To date, 26 million people have applied for debt relief, she said, and 16 million people have already obtained debt relief approval. The Department of Education “would quickly process their relief if we were victorious in court,” she said.
“The president and this administration are determined to help working and middle-class Americans get back on their feet, while our opponents – backed by extreme republican vernacular interests – are suing to prevent millions of Americans from getting much-needed help,” she said in a statement.
Legal challenges have created confusion over whether borrowers who expected debt cancellation will have to resume making payments on Jan. 1, when the COVID-19 pandemic break expires.
Economists fear that many have yet to recover financially from the pandemic, saying that if borrowers who were expecting debt relief are asked to make payments, many may be behind on their bills and default.
In his order on Thursday, Pittman said the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, commonly known as the HEROES Act, does not allow the loan redemption program claimed by the Biden administration.
The law permits the secretary of education to “waive or amend any laws or regulations applicable to student financial assistance programs… as the secretary deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or state of emergency.”
The administration argued that the student loan relief was therefore empowered to deal with a nationwide pandemic emergency. Pittman disagreed, stating that a program of such great importance required explicit authorization from Congress. The HEROES Act “does not give executive powers explicitly empowering Congress to establish a $ 400 billion student loan cancellation program,” he wrote.
Pittman also dismissed the government’s arguments that plaintiffs had no standing. Plaintiffs Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor have student loans, but Brown is not eligible for debt relief because her loans are commercially owned, and Taylor is not eligible for the full $ 20,000 because he did not receive the Pell Scholarship.
The administration said the loan amortization program did not hurt them, and their “misfortune that other borrowers get more benefits than they do” does not warrant them to sue.
Pittman said, however, that they were injured because the government had failed to acknowledge public opinion on the program’s eligibility requirements, meaning they had no chance to contribute to a program from which they would be at least partially excluded.
Predictably, the response to the ruling was mixed along the lines of political faults. The Student Borrower Protection Center criticized Pittman as a “right-wing federal judge,” saying that “tens of millions of student loan borrowers across the country are now blocked from substantial debt reduction as a result of this farcical and fabricated legal claim.”
Virginia Fox* of North Carolina celebrated this, a leading Republican on the House of Representatives education committee.
“Another nail has been added to the coffin of President Biden’s illegal rescue of student loans, and hard-working taxpayers across the country are rightly rejoicing,” she said. “This administration continues to operate as if its own self-proclaimed power to transfer billions of dollars in student loans is legal, but the rule of law says otherwise.”
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